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In a cement plant, efficient, stable operation is critical to productivity and profitability. In an ideal world, the design of the plant would be based on a comprehensive operational understanding, not just of the cement production process, but in particular the local operational and environmental issues that might affect performance. By anticipating where problems might occur, adjustments could be made in the design phase to avoid bottlenecks and minimise downtime and headaches later on.

Unfortunately, our experience shows that plants are still being designed without due consideration of these issues. Plant design tends to prioritise cost and speed, delivering a bottom line that investors are willing to sign on because they cannot foresee the costly challenges that lie ahead.

A functional cement plant, on time and on budget

That’s not to say that cost and speed aren’t important. However, of the utmost importance is producing an end product that works, both from a performance standpoint and in terms of practicality, accessibility and ease of use. Operational personnel, who have an eye for how the cement plant will actually run, can assess these things and, if brought in early enough, can help incorporate them into the plant design.

Real-world operations

Building a plant without true consideration for how it will run in the real world is a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, designing in this way will necessitate changes further down the line, costing money, curtailing production and damaging a plant’s competitive position. If an operational team is brought in at the design phase, they will give thought to operational issues such as those outlined below, which can have a real impact on a plant’s ease of operation.

· Maintenance: Due consideration should be given as to how maintenance work can be completed simply and with low manpower requirements. Access is a key issue, but one that’s often overlooked.

· Cleaning: The plant should be designed in such a way that cleaning is easy and, crucially, safe. Easy access for a mobile vacuum unit and careful thought as to how any spilled material can be returned to the process are just two issues that should be incorporated in the design phase.

· Seasonality affects: Plant design should be able to cope with changes in weather and local market conditions. Personnel with operational experience are better equipped to advise on this at the design stage.

Assist and compromise

When project and operational teams work together on plant design, everybody wins. The plant will come in on time and on budget – because the project team wouldn’t have it any other way – but it will also be functional and, ultimately, be capable of greater periods of stable, efficient operation thanks to the operational team’s experience. Undoubtedly there will be times when the two teams don’t see eye to eye, but by working together, sharing the common goal of a satisfied customer, our experience shows that a workable solution can usually be found and delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Use the available talent

If you’re in the process of putting together a plant design, it’s worth seeking guidance from experienced operational people. These don’t need to be people you will ultimately employ at the plant – construction can be a long process and you don’t need them there that early. There are plenty of people with a high level of operational experience available for this kind of project (some of the best of them work at JAMCEM!), and their advice will easily pay for itself.

However, as the equipment starts being brought in, it’s worth bringing in some key people who will ultimately run the plant so that they can familiarise themselves with how it all fits together and work out all those important access points.